Breaking the Codes of a Secretive Agent

Shante Abdo

When we scan the listings of properties for sale, how much do we allow for, let’s say, more ‘creative’ descriptions? Are we being fed potentially misleading portrayals of houses for sale? Should we be worried about deciphering coded depictions of a home’s features? Are some secretive agents keeping the truth from us?

If a property is said to be in a ‘well-established area’, does that, in the language of the realtor, really mean that it’s in a run-down, dilapidated part of town? Is ‘convenient for public transport’ a veiled way of saying that the railway runs right along the edge of the yard? When does ‘compact’ actually mean minuscule, and only fit for housing a small pet?

At what point does subtle exaggeration, or flowery prose, become deliberate deception? And who stands to gain from it? Obviously, no agent will wish to show a potential buyer around a property that has been poorly described, as the clients will only feel misled, and, let’s face it, no-one wants to waste their time upsetting customers and causing irreparable damage to a hard-earned reputation.

Most people in the market for buying a property, will of course expect, and allow for, a little bit of smoke and mirrors. But clearly overblown & inaccurate descriptions will almost certainly result in the total loss of a deal. The problem is, that in an industry that has an unfortunate, and largely unjustified, reputation for greed and dishonesty, many home seekers will be expecting to have an agent try to pull the wool over their eyes.

On the other hand, some property descriptions may be a little too enthusiastic. One Wisconsin property was recently advertised, containing the line “spectacular room to grow marijuana”. And while this definitely drew a good deal of attention, it certainly upset other realtors, who were outraged by the inclusion of such wording on a multiple listings service.

At least with the relative safety net of online multiple listings services, descriptions are generally required to conform to a standard, which is overseen and monitored by the local MLS board. In the past, each real estate company had its own inventory of properties for sale, and not only did buyers have to trawl through the many listings, but it also gave the individual companies carte blanche, when it came to how they worded the marketing material of their properties. Not all were entirely transparent in their written accounts.

It would be advisable to use the information on any listing as a guide, as opposed to regarding it as a cast-iron description, and make sure that you allow for some generous interpretations. After all, few home seekers will want to view an otherwise perfect home that states “horrendous 1970s brick fireplace”, but they may be tempted by “interesting, original features”‘. And as long as ‘quiet neighborhood’ means, nice, tranquil community, and not that the remainder of the houses on the street have been condemned, you’ll be just fine.

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